Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Bongo Room, Chicago IL

Columbus and even more-so Ohio in general lacks good breakfast spots. Somehow over the course of many years Bob Evans and Cracker Barrel have become the standard with the occassional IHOP thrown in for variety and trans-fatty repulsiveness. Sure, Columbus has recently received a gem of a breakfast spot in the form of Zen-Cha, but in general the places that serve a good pancake or french toast have a single option and lack the kitsch that makes them fun. With that said, along with fine dining dinners and unique desserts an awesome breakfast/brunch spot is always a must when I travel. From Griddle Cafe and Doughboys in LA to Norma's in New York to Tableau, Payard, and Bouchon in Vegas I've had some hits and misses along the way......on 12/31/08 Bongo Room hit it out of the park.

Arriving around 9:30am at the Wicker Park location we managed a parking spot directly in front of the building and were met by a restaurant that was only half full - none of those obsurd waits of legend.....of course when we left at 10:45 there was a line out into the cold streets. On entering the Bongo Room our server, a friendly young lady named Lani, greeted us with a big smile and a spring in her step and were were seated immediately at a booth for 6 - good thing, we ended up needing the room.

Menus were delivered and my eyes danced with delight at all the decadent choices......on the recommendation of a fellow Chowhounder I inquired regarding half orders and was informed that this indeed was no problem. With 6 wonderful sounding choices we opted for eight half orders (doubling up on the two most sinful sounding) and a side of bacon - little did we know just how much food this entailed! Shortly after ordering we were once again served Intelligentsia coffee as well as a wonderful collection of teas that were refilled frequently at no extra charge. While we waited for our food I watched the wide open kitchen work with fervor while our waitress prepped some wonderful looking drinks - both alcoholic and virgin - at the long bar.
Approximately 15 minutes after placing our orders the food began to arrive....and arrive....and arrive....and it looked amazing. Prior to entering Bongo Room I was pretty sure I'd never see anything quite as obsurd as Griddle Cafe's Black Magic Pancakes.....I was wrong. Options selected included each of the days pancake and french toast options and each was amazing in its own way.

Enamoured with the sheer decadence, both my sister and I opted for a half order of the White Chocolate and Carmel covered Pretzel pancakes. Between the two of us we received four of these crushed pretzel coated pancakes topped with white chocolate cream and buttery caramel and of all the options it was these that were closest to completion at the end of the meal. While my mother and aunt both contested it was simply too sweet, the pretzle pancakes were without a doubt my sister's favorite choice of the meal. With notable crunch from the pretzel topping and absolutely smothered in creamy white chocolate and drizzeled with caramel the dish was moist, sweet, succulent and absolutely over the top in every way.

My sister's second 1/2 order, also ordered by my aunt, was the Banana Peanut Butter Chip Pancakes with warm white chocolate sauce, chocolate crème anglaise, and fresh bananas. Named by my aunt as her favorite choice of the meal, these four monsterous pancakes also neared completion between the four of us and the delectably fresh bananas paired with natural peanut butter and milk chocolate was nearly as tasty as the banana crepes at Tru the night before, yet clearly less refined. Amazing.

My aunt's second half order was the only miss of the meal, in my opinion, and that is only because everything else was so darn good. Apple-pear and Dried cherry French Toast composed of Brown Sugar Crusted Brioche with warm apples, pears, dried cherry compote and apple pie spice crème anglaise with candied pecans, while tasty, simply had too much going on to be "great" and despite the multiple ingredients lacked the sweetness necessary. While the addition of pure maple syrup (heads up Over Easy) helped, the dish just wasn't up to par with the other wonderful choices.

The next 1/2 order was Pumpkin Carrot Cakes comprised of pumpkin spiced cakes with shredded carrots, vanilla bean cream sauce and cinnamon orange crème anglaise. Expecting something 'pumpkin pie like' this dish was a fantastic surpise in its taste, texture, and consistency which more closely represented a moist carrot cake topped with sweet icing. Honestly, had there been some raisins in this dish it may have rivaled even the best carrot cakes I've ever tasted (Bouchon Bakery and Worthington Inn) but even without it was truly remarkable.

My mother's other 1/2 order, the Red corn and Cranberry Flapjacks entailed ground red corn cakes with cranberry pieces and toasted pecan honey maple butter and was decidedly her favorite of the meal. With or without syrup the dish was incredibly hearty and Thanksgiving-esque, like a GREAT cornbread but more fluffy. This was likely my second favorite option of the meal.

My second 1/2 order, and my favorite of the meal, was the Pear Tarte-tartin Hotcakes comprised of buttermilk hotcakes topped with torch-bruleed pear slices, warm caramel sauce, and vanilla bean icecream. Perhaps it was the buttermilk, perhaps the icecream, perhaps the carmelized pears, I'm not really sure....but this dish rivaled Keller's Famous Bread-pudding French Toast for my favorite breakfast item of all time. The buttermilk hotcakes were simply fluffier than the pancakes of other dishes, the icecream sublime, the bruleed pears crispy and perfect. Amazing.

When all was said and done, the morning after a 6.5 hour eating extravaganza at Charlie Trotter's and Tru, there was quite a bit of food left on the table and I felt somewhat bad leaving food - especially after conquering my stack at Griddle Cafe earlier this year - but with plans for a late lunch and dinner it was important to pace myself. On future visits, I think 5-6 1/2 orders for 4 people would be more reasonable, or perhaps 8 single pancakes if there were more options.
Great/friendly service, great quality ingredients, great prices, a good vantage point of the kitchen, wonderful coffee.....a strong competitor for "best breakfast ever" and a DEFINITE return visit on my next trip to Chicago.

1 comment:

Gerald Robbins said...

WOW Doc, never knew you were such a connoisseur of fine foods!! This is a place I am going to HAVE to try now!